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US Adult Obesity Increases

By: Sydney Sheffield

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new evidence that 16 states now have obesity rates of 35% or higher. Four states, Delaware, Iowa, Ohio, and Texas are the newest additions to the list during the past year. This number has nearly doubled from 2018, and all 50 states have more than 20% of adults with obesity. 

The 16 states with the highest obesity prevalence are Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia.

Many are contributing the increase to the COVID-19 pandemic. Weight gain is likely due to an increase in sedentary behaviors, stress, and factors affecting healthy eating such as job or income loss. A study published in American Psychological Association (APA) found that during the pandemic, 61% of American adults experienced undesired weight changes, whether be gain or loss. Of those, 42% reported weight gain, with an average of 29 pounds, and 10% gaining more than 50 pounds. Additionally, 23% of reporting drinking more alcohol to cope with stress. 

A study in JAMA found a significant weight increase among children during the pandemic, suggesting a national increase in pediatric obesity. “This survey reveals a secondary crisis that is likely to have persistent, serious mental and physical health consequences for years to come,” said Arthur C. Evans Jr, PhD, APA’s CEO. 

This data is based on self-reporting surveys, comprising repercussions. "When patients are reporting, or individuals are reporting their weight, they tend to underreport. So I think that this report will under-capture, actually, the degree of obesity in the U.S.," Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford, a leading obesity researcher at Harvard Medical School, told NPR

The CDC reported differences in race, ethnicity, and location based on the survey results. When combining the 2018-2020 data, no state has obesity rates above 35% for non-Hispanic Asian residents. Seven states have obesity rates above 35% among non-Hispanic White residents, 22 states among Hispanic residents, and 35 states and the District of Columbia among non-Hispanic Black residents. 

Dr. Elena Rios, President, and CEO of the National Hispanic Medical Association told NPR about the discrepancies in obesity and race, "Our communities don't get the messages that you're going to have diabetes earlier, you're going to have heart disease earlier in your life and by the time you're in your 30s and 40s, you're going to be on dialysis. That's the trend that's happening in our communities." She continues to express the need for investing in low-income and minority communities. "Being able to access those services is important to receiving preventative services, counseling, and supports to address obesity," she says.

Check out the updated CDC Adult Obesity Prevalence Maps here.